An Evening with Stacey Lee via Centre County Reads

Many towns in Pennsylvania have a one-town, one-book program. This year, where I live, Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky was chosen as the Centre County Read. There were a number of events tied to the book, including a writing contest, culminating in a

First, let me say I just loved Under a Painted Sky. I read it all in one sitting on a cold Sunday morning, and the story held me captive. In the first page, we’re told our protagonist killed a man.  Then we learn how she came to be in that situation, and why she chooses to run away from Missouri (in 1849) and go out west.  Sam pairs up with Annamae, a runaway slave, and the two become a kind of family of their own.  Besides a gripping story of two girls pretending they’re boys traveling west, there are insightful observations throughout: “Maybe what matters is not so much the path as who walks beside you.”

One of the other reasons I loved this story so much was the wide range of characters and the representations of many groups of people. You have a Chinese-American, an African-American, a Mexican-American, and many other diverse characters who have a voice.  You also can see people who love music, who love singing, who love horses. I was really happy to see a female character at the end who said she didn’t want children (do you know how rare that is in fiction? it was nice to finally have a mirror in terms of that topic).

Anyway, when Stacey Lee spoke last night, it was delightful. She talked about the making of Under A Painted Sky, and also her other books (I purchased a copy of The Secret of A Heart Note, a story about a perfumer with synesthesia). She also spoke about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and how she has worked with that group, and the importance of representation in books.  It reminded me of the TED talk I use in class by Grace Lin about Windows and Mirrors. 

Finally, I was excited to see Stacey Lee speak because one of my students won a writing contest and was able to meet her.  This reminds me that we really need to encourage our students to submit work for publication and for contests.  There is something really special when a young writer meets a published writer, and I was happy to witness that and see how enthusiastic and encouraging Stacey Lee was with my student. So, if you haven’t read her books, check them out! And if you have an opportunity to see an author speak near your town, you should consider attending.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

An Evening with Stacey Lee via Centre County Reads

Book Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories

Book Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories
Edited by Ellen Oh, cofounder of We Need Diverse Books

This collection of short stories includes tales of basketball players, of students trying to be ninja elves, and of young people attempting to discover their identity in the world. Here’s the list of all the authors who contributed a story:

  • Kwame Alexander
  • Soman Chainani
  • Matt de la Pena
  • Tim Federle
  • Grace Lin
  • Meg Medina
  • Walter Dean Myers
  • Tim Tingle
  • Jacqueline Woodson
  • Kelly J Baptist, who won the We Need Diverse Books 2015 contest, which led to her publication in this anthology.

I enjoyed this entire collection of stories but I have to say, particularly enjoyed Grace Lin’s story “The Difficult Path” — not just because I’m enamored with Lin’s TED talk about Windows and Mirrors and use it with my seniors every year, but because her story involved lady pirates. I mean, what adventurous person wouldn’t love a story about female pirates? And it made me research Ching Shih, the pirate Lin based her story on, and I found myself reading all about this phenomenally successful pirate who I’d never learned about in history class. Isn’t that what we hope for with our students? For a story to connect with them and sparks their curiosity?

Tim Federle’s “Secret Samantha” also appealed to me, mostly because I feel like I’m a terrible gift giver and always second guess myself.  Sam (or Flame, her secret code name) attempts to find the perfect gift for the new girl, Blade, who’s from California and has never seen know. I just love Federle’s descriptions (“The mall is a zoo, if the zoo forgot to build cages”) and the way he creates Sam’s character–I root for her the entire story, happy when she grows bold and triumphant when she finds her voice.

Kelly J. Baptist also wrote a story I found myself identifying with, as Isaiah often ends up in the library reading or writing, or transcribing the stories his father left behind for him in “The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn.” He takes care of his sister, and sometimes his mom, trying to fill the gap the loss of his father created. Once again, I was rooting for the protagonist, watching him make waffles for breakfast, color with his sister, or reminisce while watching the king fu movies he used to watch with his dad.

I could write something about each of the stories in this book and why I loved it, but I want to leave some things for you to discover when you read it. Now that I’ve been reflecting on the book, I think one thing that ties all these stories together (aside from the diversity, of course) is the skill with which the authors invite the reader into the protagonist’s lives. Each of them offers an intimate glimpse into a different life, and yet everyone wants a version of the same thing: strong relationships with others and people to love them as they are.

c1qtkaqxuaaic6gI’ll be giving away my copy of this to someone in Pennsylvania. So either comment below to be entered or retweet one of our PCTELA posts with this link. I’ll choose the winner on Sunday night (2/19/17).

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA



Book Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories